Land in Dubai in the morning and leave after midnight - here's how to explore the city in 24 hours. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: Many people wonder – can you really explore Dubai in one day? We say, yes!

Depending on your flight timings and accommodation plans, there's a lot you could check off on the tourist bucket list. And if you plan to land in Dubai in the morning and leave after midnight, you could even get away without booking a place to stay.

For this guide, we assume this is your plan. The below sample itinerary could be modified according to your specific plans, as long as you figure out which timings can be adjusted.

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From the airport

If your arrival airport is Dubai International Airport (DXB), you may have access to the metro depending on which terminal you arrive at – Terminals 1 and 3 are linked to the Dubai Metro. If you land at Al Maktoum International Airport or Dubai World Central (DWC), you’ll have to either take a shuttle bus (half-hourly during the day and hourly during the night) to a metro/bus stop close to your destination, or you could get a taxi. 

Since most flights currently fly out of DXB airport, this itinerary assumes that as your start and end point.

You will land at either DXB or DWC airport in Dubai.

On to old Dubai

First, we head to old Dubai – this location paints a very different picture than the ones normally associated with Dubai. This part of the emirate houses beautiful souks or markets and traditional Arabian architecture and brings about an old-worldly charm to this shiny and novel city.

A must-do when here is to take the abra – a water ferry that goes across the Creek from Bur Dubai to Deira and vice versa for just one dirham. The abra stations are open from 5am to midnight, so if you end up in the area a bit early (shops open after 9am), you can still enjoy a couple of abra rides before it gets hot.

Tourists enjoy the abra ride along the beautiful old Deira Creekside.
The abra rides go from Bur Dubai to Deira and vice versa from 5am to midnight daily.

Spice Souk, Gold Souk and Perfume Souk are on the Deira side, while the Bur Dubai side has the Old Souk, which is also called the Bur Dubai Souk or the Textile Souk. If you have time, you could explore the Al Fahidi Historical District which houses Dubai’s oldest building, Al Fahidi Fort.

Plan to get souvenirs to take back home from these souks and make sure to bargain. From sand art in glass bottles, tableware, clothes and carpets to spices, coffee and gold, there is so much to check out in this area. Don’t forget to get a hot cup of karak and a breakfast roll to fuel up before you leave.

The heritage districts in Dubai offer a stark contrast to the glitz of 'new Dubai'.

How to get there

There are a few metro stations that you can choose to get off at, depending on where you want to spend the most time. Palm Deira and Ghubaiba metro stations are near the Bur Dubai Abra stop while Al Ras and Al Fahidi are closer to the Deira Old Souk Abra station.

Dubai Frame

Dubai Frame
In true Dubai fashion, this structure is the largest frame in the world.

Given that there is limited time, it is best to choose one of these attractions to go to depending on your interest. The Dubai Frame is an iconic structure in Zabeel Park that literally 'frames' old and new Dubai.

It is the largest frame in the world and houses an exhibition that showcases the growth of Dubai. While there, you can walk on the glass walkway connecting the two towers. Tickets cost Dh50 per adult.

How to get there

The closest metro stop is Al Jafiliya (Red Line). You will have to take a cab from the metro stop at minimum fare (Dh12) to get to the destination.

Museum of the Future

Instead, you could choose to go to another iconic landmark, touted as the ‘the most beautiful building on Earth’. The Museum of the Future is one of the newest structures to open to the public and has already become a major tourist attraction – tickets (Dh149 per person) are almost always sold out for weeks.

If the Museum of the Future is on your to-visit list, you will have to book tickets online at least two weeks in advance. [Pictured: The Observation Deck at Museum of the Future]

The museum is otherworldly in terms of the innovation on display. If travelling with children, a visit to this museum will be an educational and fun one with its dedicated section for kids. The unique architectural marvel has seven distinct floors offering an immersive experience powered by virtual reality and AI.

How to get there

The nearest metro stop to this one is Emirates Towers (Red Line) from where you can walk to the attraction. If you decide to do both attractions, we suggest taking a cab from one to the other in less than 10 minutes one way.

Dubai Travel Guide Maps
An one-day itinerary for tourists heading to Dubai with iconic attractions that shouldn't be missed. Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal

Mall of the Emirates

Assuming you spent two hours in Old Dubai, and two-three hours at Dubai Frame and/or Museum of the Future, you may be getting hot and hungry right about now. Next up on our itinerary is Mall of the Emirates. 

Stock shopping Dubai mall of the emirates
Mall of the Emirates in Dubai.

We suggest a quick lunch, either at the food court or at one of the many restaurants here. You could also kick-start your big brand shopping at this mall.

A major crowd-puller at this shopping destination is Ski Dubai – an indoor snow entertainment park. From feeding penguins (fixed timings) to snow rides and skating, Ski Dubai can be a fun attraction to check off your list of places to go in Dubai.

How to get there

Head on to the Dubai Metro and hop off the Mall of the Emirates metro station (Red Line).

Souk Madinat Jumeirah

Next up is more shopping and photo-ops with a landmark Dubai building in the background – Burj Al Arab. Take a cab from the Mall of the Emirates (around 10 minutes depending on traffic) to Souk Madinat Jumeirah.

Along with many shops featuring textiles, jewellery and trip memorabilia, Souk Madinat Jumeirah also has amazing restaurants and cafes to try, many of which boast views of Burj Al Arab. There is a canal running through the destination on which you can take an abra ride.

Stock Dubai madinat
Souk Madinat Jumeirah has many shopping and dining outlets to try out and is located near the iconic Burj Al Arab.

For the perfect photo with the landmark, head to the balcony next to Costa Coffee on Level 1 of the shopping venue. Alternatively, you could head to the beach nearby for that perfect shot – it may be really hot during the day though.

How to get there

Take a cab from the Mall of the Emirates (around 10 minutes depending on traffic) to Souk Madinat Jumeirah.

Palm Jumeirah

The Palm in Dubai is the poster image for most Dubai travel guides – the incredible man-made archipelago of islands that houses luxury hotels and residences. The arch of Atlantis Dubai and now, the Royal Atlantis (which was inaugurated with a Beyonce performance), is postcard-Dubai. We suggest a quick drive through the Palm on a cab to enjoy the views and you could get pictures on the promenade.

However, if you would rather see the Palm from high up above, as originally intended, head to The View in Palm Tower. For Dh100 (Dh125 for the coffee package), you can see The Palm from a height of 240 metres. The View is an observatory on the 52nd floor of the Palm Tower which offers 360-degree views of the archipelago. The destination also has an exhibition.

First look:  The View Palm Jumeirah, Dubai's new observation deck
The View, Palm Tower

If you want to splurge you could try The View Next level, which offers access to the VIP Lounge along with Levels 52 and 54. This ticket is priced at Dh325 per adult. From this destination, you could also try Dubai’s monorail system.

How to get there

We suggest a cab ride from Souk Madinat Jumeirah as it is the shortest and most convenient way to get to the Palm Tower. 

Bluewaters Island

From The Palm, head to Bluewaters Island. Home to the world’s highest observation wheel, Ain Dubai, this destination is great for a nice stroll and great pictures. Ain Dubai is temporarily closed.

Ain Dubai, the world's highest observation wheel, is currently closed but you can get Insta-worthy pictures with the mammoth structure as your background.

You can enjoy diverse dining spots here, or go on a stroll with views of Ain Dubai and Dubai Marina. The destination is designed uniquely and makes for a fun stop on your one-day trip to Dubai.

How to get there

We suggest taking a cab if your previous stop was The View. However, if you altered the itinerary and are on the Dubai Metro, Damac Metro Station is your best choice. You could also head here from JBR on a footbridge connecting the two destinations – the nearest metro on that side is Jumeirah Lake Towers Metro Station.

Dubai Mall, Dubai Fountains

We have kept this one for last so that the timings align for all three of the attractions. The metro is the best choice to head here, so you could take a cab from Bluewaters Island to the nearest metro stop (Damac) and get off at Dubai Mall/Burj Khalifa metro station. If you’re driving or in a cab, Fountain Parking or Cinema Parking would be closest to the fountains.

Dubai Mall is one of the largest malls in the world and has nearly all of the big brands that you would want to shop at while in the country. It also houses the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo – a great choice especially if travelling with children and have the time. Tickets cost Dh199 per person. The Aquarium Tunnel or the Glass Bottom Boat ride should only take 15-30 minutes each but other activities can take upward of an hour at least.

Dubai Mall Fountains
Dubai Fountain shows are free to watch.

The view of Dubai Fountains (the world’s tallest performing fountains) and Burj Khalifa go hand-in-hand with the half-hourly fountain shows starting at 6pm. The shows go on until 11pm. The shows are free to watch and the walkway and bridge there give you the best photo-ops with Burj Khalifa in the background. You can pay (starting at Dh20 per person) to get closer to the performance on the Dubai Fountain Boardwalk or with a Dubai Fountain Lake Ride.

How to get there

The metro is the best choice to head here, so you could take a cab from Bluewaters Island to the nearest metro stop (Damac) and get off at Dubai Mall/Burj Khalifa metro station. If you’re driving or in a cab, Fountain Parking or Cinema Parking would be closest to the fountains.

Burj Khalifa

Next is ‘At The Top’ in Burj Khalifa, inside the world’s tallest building. Tickets for this experience (access to Levels 124 and 125) need to be booked in advance and vary in price depending on the timing. In this itinerary, we have scheduled this for the night, which offers the best views and aligns with the rest of our plans. If you have the time, you choose to do this during other time slots but it can add to your travel duration.

Burj Khalifa
The view from atop the world's tallest building is a must-do for nearly every Dubai tourist and we recommend booking an evening slot to truly enjoy the view of the city.

The slots for weekdays are from 9am – 11pm, and 5am – midnight on weekends. Prime hours are from 3pm to 6.30pm (starts at Dh244 per adult) and non-prime hours are all other times from 8am to midnight (starts at Dh169 per adult). This summer, two kids (younger than 12) can go free with two accompanying adults.

You can book combos as well ranging from Dh300 to Dh800 which offer a range of different options. We suggest booking in advance but limited immediate tickets are also available. Finish off the night with dinner at one of the many restaurants at the venue - choices include everything from celebrity chef restaurants to fast food joints. 

And to the airport

Then, hop on the metro and get off at the Dubai Airport. The metro stops at midnight on most days (except weekends), so plan your departure accordingly - or you could get a cab.

If you did not have dinner at Dubai Mall, you can have it at the airport which has many restaurants and cafes to choose from. Depending on the airline you could opt to check in online and enjoy some downtime for your hectic day of travel with a meal, a massage, a facial or even a few hours of sleep at the airport.